Here’s what therapists say you should do (and not do) when your marriage is suffering.
No one plans for their marriage to suffer. But sometimes couples experience rough patches or issues they think they’ll never overcome. Here are five things to do and five things to avoid when your marriage is suffering.
Five things to do when your marriage is suffering
1. Ask yourself if there’s 10 percent of your marriage worth saving
Before confronting your spouse, ask yourself if there’s even a small part of your marriage worth saving.
“If couples I see are focused on even a small core of positivity, it’s a foundation for rebuilding their relationship,” says psychologist Samantha Rodman. “It gives them a springboard to work on repairing the connection.”
If there’s still something positive between you, don’t rush into divorce quite yet. Visit a therapist if needed so you can start to rebuild your relationship.
2. Figure out your spouse’s unmet needs
One of the most common struggles for married couples is unmet needs. Ask your spouse what he or she needs most, truly listen and then work together to meet those needs.
Don’t get defensive when asking about your spouse’s needs. Maybe he or she asked you to listen more and you feel like you’re a great listener. But the point is that your spouse feels their thoughts aren’t being heard. Getting defensive will only strike an argument. Instead, discuss what your spouse needs and why he or she feels those needs aren’t being met.
3. Touch your spouse
This is probably the last thing you want to do when your marriage is rocky but it can make a huge positive impact.
“Yes, when your relationship is in trouble, showing affection feels forced and robotic,” says marriage therapist Aaron Anderson. “But if it felt natural, you’d be doing it already. Your relationship thrives on affection and love and you want to get to a point where it starts feeling more natural.”
Embrace your spouse in a hug after work or hold their hand while watching television. Even if it feels forced at first, your spouse will appreciate the gesture.
4. Ask other couples how they build a strong marriage
Ask those you trust how they built their strong marriage. Expert tips aren’t the only ones that matter; you can also gather great advice from couples you look up to. Marriage expert Mitch Temple reminds people that even the most successful marriages didn’t develop overnight. In fact, he says they likely experienced the same problems as you.
“One reason their marriages are strong today is that they were committed to the idea that no matter what obstacles they faced, they would learn to manage their problems and overcome crisis on an ongoing basis,” Temple says.
Remember that loving your spouse and building your marriage isn’t just a one-and-done type of thing. Continually make your marriage stronger each day.
5. Concentrate on what you can do for your marriage
You can’t control your spouse’s actions, but you can control your own. Anderson says letting his or her actions irritate you will only cause unnecessary grief.
“By the time couples come to see me, each one has a laundry list of things that they wish their partner would stop doing, says Anderson. “Instead, focus only on the things you can control and leave it up to your partner to fix the things that they control. You’ll soon find yourself being more relaxed, having better moods, and as a result, your relationship usually starts getting better too.”
Five things not to do when your marriage is suffering
1. Complain to your mom
Complaining to others about your spouse changes the way they see him or her. Complaining to your parents about your spouse, for example, could set you up for ongoing bad feelings, says psychotherapist Lisa Kift. It might make you feel great in the moment to get some frustrations off your chest, but it will only hurt your relationship in the long run.
Instead, psychologist and relationship coach Jessica Higgins suggests remembering your spouse’s positive qualities. Both experts recommend thinking of three things you love about your spouse when a complaint comes to mind. This can help you create a positive mindset before calmly addressing your problems – without complaining.
2. Bring up resolved conflicts
Leave the past in the past if it’s already been resolved. There’s no need to rehash what you’ve already discussed over and over. If you’re still holding on to past issues, it’s a sign those problems are still affecting you today. Talk to a counselor for help overcoming those problems together.
3. Dismiss your spouse’s concerns
Never dismiss your spouse’s concerns, no matter how small. If your husband or wife brings up an issue, it clearly means enough to them to mention it. Listen to your sweetheart’s concerns and come up with ideas together on how to solve them.
4. Compare your spouse to someone else
You must absolutely avoid comparing your spouse to anyone. Never say, “I wish you were more like Bob’s wife” or “Why can’t you treat me the way Susan does?” Comparisons only lead to hurt feelings and arguments.
5. Blame someone else
It’s easy to get stuck in “attack” and “blame” mode, says Pam Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker. Building a healthy marriage has everything to do with your attitude when approaching the issue, First Things First adds. Feeling like a team creates a sense of empowerment in your marriage. Don’t blame others for problems you and your spouse face. Instead, work through your problems together. Talk to a therapist if you need help problem-solving.
In serious cases such as abuse, divorce might be the best option for you and your children’s safety. But in other situations, your marriage can be saved with time, hard work and patience. Talk to your spouse if you want to save your marriage because sometimes, seeing your true desire is the first push to rebuilding your marriage.
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